All hail… The Brian Jonestown Massacre

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

I rented the documentary DIG! on the strength of it being something about The Dandy Warhols. The Dandys really didn’t make a good first impression back when I surfed into the insufferable video for ‘Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth’. I already thought their name was a bit naff; this video seemed to show them as self-conscious posers with catchy riffs. When their Stones pastiche ‘Bohemian Like You’ came to me via a mobile phone advert, their reputation in my world seemed sealed – down in the depths with the toxic waste.

But… I’d seen some people with blatantly good taste mentioning them in glowing terms. When I borrowed 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia from Golders Green library, I was shocked to be totally floored, by four tracks at least. The rest were kind of OK, but ‘Godless’, ‘Mohammed’, and especially ‘Nietzsche’ and ‘Sleep’ were soaring wonders.

Anyway, I never followed that surprise up, but I was curious about a documentary with them in it. And some band called The Brian Jonestown Massacre. If I’d heard of them before, it hadn’t registered (striking name notwithstanding), and I certainly didn’t have a clue about them or their music.

In the end, DIG! is a good yarn, and a fascinating look at the perils of the music industry. Regarding Anton Newcombe, the BJM’s main man, it’s hard not to come away from the film with an acute impression of his personal demons. His personal statement about the film makes it clear that the director took more than a few liberties with editing in order to construct a more sensational narrative.

It was edifying to hear from friends who have spent time with him that in their experience he’s a pretty cool guy. But all this weighing of evidence about the personality of someone you haven’t even met is redundant. It’s the thin end of the wedge that keeps the door open to celebrity gossip and other culture-killing shite. More than anything, DIG! left me with a burning desire to check out the BJM’s music.

Anton Newcombe

I grabbed their recent 2-CD retrospective Tepid Peppermint Wonderland, and I’ve not really listened to anyone else since. The first warm week of the spring has been transfigured by the BJM’s wild-eyed, dronadelic genius into the most sustained and richly textured musical high I’ve experienced since I discovered Lungfish a couple of years ago. Prolific, effervescent, and ceaselessly creative, the band have constructed a body of work that demands enormous respect. It’s a rare kind of retro, ones that looks back to go forward, the sort of impassioned dip into the past that fired the imaginations of Renaissance magi as they discovered their own vision of antiquity. It’s almost as if Newcombe has envisioned an alternate timeline where the modern music industry never really happened, and the seminal leaps forward of the sixties carried on without concern for radio-friendly production values and shifting product.

In DIG!, his antipathy to the industry is cast as pointless self-destruction. I wasn’t there, I don’t know how it happened. It’s so tempting to feel like I do know something, having seen some film footage. But in the end it’s more than enough to be fiercely philosophical about it with Anton. The quiet, unlikely hero of the film seemed to me to be the A&R guy Adam Shore, who, in brokering the deal for the BJM’s only major label album, instead of funnelling the cash into renting a big studio, bought Anton a full home studio for keeps. Anton keeps bucking the industry, always producing music whose depth and effortless fertility shows DIG‘s conceit of portraying him and Courtney as musical equals whose differing paths are determined by differing psychological health to be the simplistic falsehood that is obviously is. The Dandys have done some great stuff, but comparison with BJM’s work is an exercise in futility.

‘All Around You (Intro)’ opens the BJM’s supremely psychedelic opus Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request. “The hippie prophet vibe is in full effect,” notes the BJM’s brilliant former bassist, Matt Hollywood. Beckoning you into his head-trip, the maniacally cackling Newcombe proclaims, “Here comes the best part… We’re giving it to you absolutely free!”

Now, with the advent of widespread broadband, this is much more than an inspirational expression. What seems to be the entire back catalogue of this contemporary gem of a band is available to download, for free. My jaw’s still on the floor from discovering this last night. This guy’s serious about his music in a way that makes the machinations of the media machine seem hopelessly flimsy.

Obviously, I heartily recommend you head over to start downloading. I’ve not listened thoroughly to everything, but Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request is a great place to start, as is Give It Back (a magnificent album, recorded in a week on borrowed studio time). If you feel like holding a CD, Tepid Peppermint Wonderland is a great overall introduction; not to mention DIG!, despite its faults.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre fucking rule.

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